Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Forecast for Sun

As we anticipate the coming weekend with a promise of sun, here is a trip made a few weeks ago when a short-lived cold-and-sunny snap had just hit Seattle.

The forecast was for cold temps, but we were ok with that since we were going to the mountains and would have our layers on and be generating some body heat. While summiting Snoqualmie Pass in Nicole's car, the temperature read 18 degrees; that would have been a relative heat wave for where we were going.

We drove east to Exit 80, then north toward Roslyn and Lake Cle Elum. When I saw the temp was headed for the single digits, I called for a coffee stop in Roslyn. Upon exiting the car, each of us (Rich, Dave, Lisa, Nicole and I) remarked that it didn't feel so cold, though of course we were moving fast to get inside for warmth. We each had a hot drink and sampled the cafe's treats, then we each used the restroom. When I glanced outside, it didn't look any warmer, but we had already used up all the cafe's resources so it was time to go.

We drove as far north along Lake Cle Elum as we could, stopping once we realized we were about to trammel the snowmobile route and parked near the Jolly Mountain trailhead. We had wasted (I mean, enjoyed) enough time so that now it was a whopping 10 degrees. I celebrated the double digits by whooping and jumping, swinging my arms (to keep my circulation going, of course). On the walk from the car to the start of our snowshoe, about 1/2 mile, my feet froze completely solid. Dave offered me some chemical heat, but the thought of taking off my boots didn't sound too appealing.
a wabbit?

The collective leadership and navigational experience was soon put into practice as we made our way from the horse camp, up a road and toward the trail. We crossed a creek, then doubled back and re-crossed the same creek, looking for a better route. Soon, my trail-sniffing senses were alert (they must be temperature sensitive) and all the compass and map training I'd had in November with Rich and Dave were put aside for feelings, hunches and following the sun.

Soon, we found the summer trail and followed it upward as it zigged and zagged, traversing above creek beds and arriving on benches and logging roads. Our main goal was to be in the sunshine and we allowed some sunning breaks, admiring the peaks that began to pop up behind the forested slopes to the northwest. After gaining a thousand feet or so, it became a game to name what peaks we were looking at. There was Chikamin, Lemah and Three Queens, though I was much more accustomed to seeing them from Spectacle Lake on the PCT. To the north was Chimney Rock which is not very often seen and makes a very dramatic appearance behind a ridge in the foreground.
Cooper River Valley

We were running out of time, as I had set the turn-around time at 1:30pm and so, in a desperate attempt to get as high as we could before that time, we ditched the trail and just headed straight up the mountain. When we reached the next logging road, we stopped for photos and gawking.
Nicole, Rich, Dave and Lisa

Gawking and pixelations taken care of, we did something that is only permissible in winter – we cut the switchbacks on the trail as though the act of switchbacking might shorten our lives. Down and down we went, making quick work of all the effort we had put into ascending just a few hours earlier.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Rising Above

Mt Baker from Poo Poo Point

Rich and I had plans to hike up out of the fog layer that had been hanging over Seattle for the past few days after all the cold and sunshine we'd had. In addition, there was a temperature inversion so it was much colder down in the city than up high in the mountains.

Chirico, or Inca trail?

We went to Tiger Mt via the Chirico Trail, which was pretty busy for a cool, foggy morning, so our idea of climbing above the fog wasn't completely original. The trail was as beautiful as ever, made even more so by the freezing fog on the branches, ferns and even the spider webs. As we climbed higher, which the trail does pretty steadily, we could see the fog taking on a blueish hue and we got even more excited about what was waiting at the top.

Our excitement was peaked when we arrived at Poo Poo Point where not only did Squak and Cougar Mts look like islands, but the Olympics were in view, as was Mt Baker to the north which I think was the first time I had seen Mt Baker from this viewpoint. We soaked in the good air and sunshine (free Vit D), then headed down the road on our loop hike. There was intermittent snow and ice on the road, but the temperature still allowed us to be in light layers. After a little more than a mile, we reached the Hidden Tiger trail and headed up on the quad-burning steep trail for a little less than a mile to gain over 800 feet and reach the Tiger Mt Trail.

frozen fog on fern
In a short bit, we turned off that to the One View Trail, then the RR Grade back to Poo Poo Point.  By that time in the day (afternoon), the paraglider take-off spot was mobbed with people who had also come up high to rise out of the fog and bask in the sunshine. Our departure was delayed as we people-watched, dog-watched, soaked in more sun and just plain lollygagged in the warm and clear air. It was very hard to leave and once we did, we descended back down into the fog, encouraging those we saw on the trail who were coming up, promising that it really was worth the effort.
Squak and Cougar islands

Back at the trailhead, it was as though we had never left, as it was still cold and moist air. But, somehow, the feeling of knowing what was up above and that it was accessible without too much effort, made dealing with the fog much more bearable.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

1989: Part Four

I feel like I have turned in a writing assignment about a week late, as my 25th year in Seattle has already come to a close. But finishing this chapter of my life was a task connected to many emotions some very painful.  To refresh your memory, here is the link to Part Three.

The next morning, I arrived at Swedish Hospital and was given an interesting shave job so they could perform an arteriogram into both of my femoral arteries to see what was blocking one of them. I don't remember all the details leading up to the procedure itself, but the main gist is that they had inserted a catheter into my femoral artery, then filled it with some type of dye and it would show up on the x-ray. I don't think they had given me anything for pain. Before the imaging started, when they told me to lay perfectly flat and not to move; the doctor said I might feel a little pain. Then, the nurse leaned in close and said, "It's gonna burn like hell!". Guess what... the nurse was right. Oh man, I had never felt anything like that or knew that that level of pain was acceptable in a medical procedure in the first world. In spite of the burning sensation, I had to keep my body still, so I couldn't curl up into a little ball, as was my natural reflex. They did the procedure twice, once for each leg for comparison, though it didn't become any less painful, especially since I knew what to expect.

After it was over and they were pondering what to do next, a man came through the door (is it too dramatic to say he burst through the door?) and stated, "I think I can help this woman." Apparently, Swedish has a meeting each week to discuss difficult cases and I was one of those; no one quite knew what the cause was or what exactly to do about it. For my situation, this man was very timely. After the arteriogram had exposed a narrowing in my artery, they didn't know where to proceed from there. There had been restricted blood flow below my right knee for nearly three weeks and they were worried about tissue death and the onset of gangrene. They had been considering amputation of my right leg below the knee.

The guy who had appeared at the last moment was an anesthesiologist who had dabbled in some natural modalities, particularly something called Bonnie Pruden's Pain Erasure Method . It was a way to get muscles to release that were in spasm. The concept is similar to giving Ritalin, an upper, to someone with ADD. The result is that it speeds up processes in the brain so much, that the brain has to relax. In my case, a practitioner would increase stress on a muscle until the point where it relaxed. It was a great premise and would eventually work, but the only problem was that my foot hurt to be touched, even just a little. And all those muscles that were tight all the way up my leg were sore and tender to the touch. I found this out as the anesthesiologist made his way systematically from my foot to my butt, finding every tight spot by how hard I grimaced. Since I was in the hospital, I took advantage of having a nursing staff there with me. They asked if I would like to grip their hands to deal with the pain. That was very kind of them, but I sincerely hope I didn't hurt either of them as I tightened my grip relentlessly while it felt like the doctor was cutting into me with a knife. A couple of times, I raised my head to check out what was going on, sure that he had some type of sharp object in his hand. He held up his empty hands so I could see them, then went back to work.

After he worked my right leg, he continued to the left, just for good measure (and because the body works in strange ways sometimes) and was finally done. My pulse could be felt at the ankle for the first time in 3 weeks. Phew! They moved me to a hospital bed in the outpatient area to recover and I was hooked to a machine that read blood pressure and pulse every 15 minutes. My first visitor, a friend who brought flowers, looked at the latest reading and immediately registered worry on his face. My pulse is normally in the low to mid-forties range when I'm in good physical shape, but that is below the norm for most people. My next visitor, a cousin, brought me chocolate which, when I consumed it, immediately brought my heart-rate up to "normal" levels. I figured it was like my heart was going for a run while I was laying in bed eating chocolate.

The recovery phase followed, which was slow and exhausting. I stayed with a friend (the guy who brought flowers) from the climbing class, who lived on the second floor of his building and, in those first weeks, it was all I could do to make it up the flight of stairs without stopping to rest on the way. Later, I moved into a crazy house as one of six housemates (they made room for me by giving me the "bike room"). I had worked with one of them as a messenger and the others were a whitewater rafting guide (we went on one of his trips – what a blast!), a guitarist in a new band (then called Sage), a cashier at the Grand Illusion, a local independent cinema; and a plant grower at the Indoor Sun Shoppe (where the feds always raided, looking for marijuana).

Slowly, my walking distance increased, I started swimming at the Green Lake pool and got out on my bike for short rides, working on my endurance little by little. It was mentally very draining to go from being a super-fit messenger-triathlete to having to start all over again from the beginning. But I was determined to get better and be able to go on real bike rides again, though maybe not so many miles and not without eating high quality protein and getting lots of rest in between.

Little by little, I regained my strength and my endurance came back agonizingly slowly, yet still came back. By the end of the following year, I was ok to go on a backpack trip to Yellowstone, though when my friends wanted to go on a long dayhike, I stayed behind and swam in the creek with the ducks and fish. It was not to say that I had completely learned my lesson about not doing too much and taking rests, but I was still in my 20s and showing as much restraint as I could manage, given all the adventurous people I had in my current circle.

Over the years, I have had other overuse injuries (the signs of which were a doctor's confusion over the diagnosis), yet none as serious as that first one. I am grateful for the care I received and very appreciative of having both my legs with which to participate in many future adventures.